Wednesday 19 September 2012

Seven golden rules of writing

There are seven ‘golden’ rules that will help you to write more simply and clearly:

Rule 1:             Use familiar words - favour Anglo Saxon rather than other derivatives, such as French. e.g., ‘send’ rather than ‘transmit’, ‘carry out’ rather than ‘implement’ (or at least as an alternative to ‘implement’, which is one of those words that crop up in reports and business writing time and time again).

Rule 2:             Avoid words of three or more syllables as far as possible unless they are in common usage. They tire the reader.

Rule 3:             Avoid clich├ęs - they are often too loose as expressions and can be misunderstood.

Rule 4:             Avoid professional jargon - your reader may not be an expert in your field. If you need to use a professional word which is standard for you but may be obscure for others, explain it.

Rule 5:             Keep your average sentence length to between 15 and 20 words. This does not mean that every sentence must be 15 to 20 words long – that would be boring. People need variety and short sentences can provide real impact when required. If the average is substantially higher than 20 words, the readability of the document drops alarmingly.

Rule 6:             Sentences should contain one thought or idea. Paragraphs should contain sentences about related thoughts or ideas. Start a new paragraph with a new idea or concept, or one that leads on from the last idea. Sometimes long paragraphs are inevitable because of the density of closely related ideas. But try to keep paragraphs short, with an average of four or five sentences.

Rule 7:             Be consistent. There are many different house styles – look at spelling styles: organise or organize, focus or focuss, benefiting or benefitting; be careful when presenting numbers: three and 13, or 3 and 13?; make sure you use headings and sub-headings consistently. Inconsistency throws the reader and can make a text hard to understand.